St. Holbytla’s Monastery

Reading Tolkien in the Light of Faith

Archive for June 2009

Gandalf and Aquinas on the sin of despair

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During the Council of Elrond, Gandalf told Erestor that throwing the Ruling Ring to the Fires of Mount Doom is not despair:

It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 302)

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, despair is a sin against the First Commandment:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins.  Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice–for the Lord is faithful to his promises–and to his mercy. (CCC Art. 2091)

In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas also answered the question of whether despair is the greatest of all sins:

Unbelief, despair, and hatred of God are all opposed to theological virtues. If we compare them, we find that in themselves, that is, in their own specific nature, hatred and unbelief are graver than despair. Unbelief is due to a man’s not believing the very truth of God. Hatred of God is due to his will being opposed to the very goodness of God. Despair, on the other hand, is due to a man’s failure to hope that he will share in the goodness of God. Hence it is clear that unbelief and hatred of 334God are opposed to God as he is in himself, whereas despair is opposed to him by way of being opposed to our participation in his good. In the absolute sense, therefore, to disbelieve the truth of God, or to harbour hatred of God, is a graver sin than not to hope to receive glory from him.

But if we compare despair with the other two sins from our own point of view, it is more dangerous. For by hope we are called back from evils and induced to strive for what is good, and if hope is lost, men fall headlong into vices, and are taken away from good works. Hence the gloss on Prov. 24:10, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small,” says: “Nothing is more execrable than despair. For he who despairs loses his constancy in the daily labours of this life, and what is worse, loses his constancy in the endeavour of faith.” Further, as Isodorus says in 2 De Summo Bono 14: “To commit a crime is death to the soul; but to despair is to descend into hell.” (Part I, Treatise on the Theological Virtues, I, Q. 20, Art. 3)


Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

June 25, 2009 at 2:05 am

Elvish lembas and Elijah’s way bread

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The elves gave Sam and Frodo lembas, the way bread, for their journey towards Mordor:

The lembas had a virtue without which  they would long ago lain down to die.  It did not satisfy desire, annd at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats.  And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods.  It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind. (Return of the King pp. 227-228)

In the Old Testament, an angel gave Elijah a similar food for his journey to the mountain of Horeb:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. (1 Kngs 19:3-8)

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

June 13, 2009 at 5:21 am

Burying the Dead vs Cremation: the Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization

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Today’s reading before the Gospel is about Tobit. This is fitting since yesterday was the Feast of the Pentecost and on this feast Tobit was having a dinner when he heard that one of the Israelites was murdered. Tobias left his dinner untouched and went to the marketplace. He got the corpse and put in inside his house. After sunset, Tobit buried him. (Tobit 2:1-4)

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy:

The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.  Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.  the corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (Catechism Art. 2447)

In Middle Earth, burying the dead is a sign of respect to the dead:

  1. When Boromir died, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli thought of burying him.  But because of the long and hard labor involved, they decided to send Boromir’s body on a boat and let it glide towards the Falls of Rauros.  “The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil crature dishonor his bones.” (Two Towers p. 5)
  2. After the battle between the Orcs and the Riders of Rohan, fifteen Riders died.  A mound was raised for them planted with 15 spears. (Two Towers p. 36)
  3. The body of Theoden was “laid in a house of stone with his arms and many other ffair things that he had possessed, and over him was raised a great mound, covered with green turves of grass and of white evermine.  And now there were eight mounds on the east-side orthe Barrowfield.”  (Return of the King p. 275)
  4. The Stewards of Gondor are buried in the tombs called House of the Stewards.  But because Gondor was under siege, and there is no time, Denethor, in his madness, decided to burn himself and his sick son, Faramir:  “At last they came to the Silent Street, Rath Dinen, between pale domes and empty halls the images of men long dead; and they entered into the houses of Stewards and set down their burden.” (Return of the King p. 96)

The last example is called cremation.  This is becoming accepted nowadays in the Philippines (see Inquirer arcticle here).  But in the fifth century, when Christianity already became entrenched in the Roman empire, the practice of cremation was forbidden, because of the belief on the Resurrection of the Dead:

The Christians never burned their dead, but followed from earliest days the practice of the Semitic race and the personal example of their Divine Founder. It is recorded that in times of persecution many risked their lives to recover the bodies of martyrs for the holy rites of Christian burial. The pagans, to destroy faith in the resurrection of the body, often cast the corpses of martyred Christians into the flames, fondly believing thus to render impossible the resurrection of the body. What Christian faith has ever held in this regard is clearly put by the third-century writer Minucius Felix, in his dialogue “Octavius”, refuting the assertion that cremation made this resurrection an impossibility: “Nor do we fear, as you suppose, any harm from the [mode of] sepulture, but we adhere to the old, and better, custom” (“Nec, ut creditis, ullum damnum sepulturae timemus sed veterem et meliorem consuetudinem humandi frequentamus” — P.L., III, 362). (Catholic Encyclopedia 1908)

Even though the Church now permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (Catechism 2301), there are still other restrictions:

Catholic burial practice calls for the cremains to be buried in an urn within a consecrated grave or placed inside a mausoleum. Keeping ashes at home or scattering them on land or sea, even where legal, is inappropriate to the Church’s deep reverence for the body as a place where the soul has resided (Catholic Culture)

Denethor himself would have chosen to be buried and not to be cremated:

Why?  Why do fools fly?  Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must.  Go back to your bonfire!  And I?  I will go now to my pyre.  To my pyre!  No tomb for Denethor and Faramir.  No tomb!  No long slow sleep of death embalmed.  We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West.  The West has failed.  Go back and burn!

Just as the abolishing of cremation is a sign of the renewed vigor of the Western Civilization under the tutelage of the Catholic Church, in the same was is the present acceptance of cremation a symptom of the Western civilization’s despair and demise: the two towers burned in 911, militant Islam is rising, abortion and euthanasia are state laws, and the US embraces communism under Obama.  The West has failed.

Pope Leo the Great, pray for us.